For a 9/10 America

Watching and reading the various 9/11 remembrances this year, I get the sense that a lot of Americans are ready to move on but are hesitant for fear of seeming either callous or negligently complacent about the country’s security. But it’s past time to move on.

The enormity of the 9/11 mass murders will always stay with those of us old enough to remember. Terrorist acts are perhaps by definition political, in some broad sense of ‘political’. So the terrible events of 9/11 have always been politicized. But 9/11 has been politicized in another way. The United States’ government reacted to to 9/11 and that reaction has been, to my mind, an enormous disaster. Yet those responsible for this disaster have been successful in hiding behind the shock of the crumbling towers, as if support for their dangerous and deadly policies is inexorably implied by feeling deeply the full weight of 9/11’s tragedy. Those most insistent that we “never forget” 9/11 are those who need our continuing collective complicity in the erosion of our civil liberties, in the weakening of the rule of law, in the unjustified invasion of unrelated foreign countries and the murder of their people, in the policy of state-sanctioned torture. The difficulty many Americans have in separating remembrance of an act of terror from an endorsement of the war on terror may turn out be George W. Bush’s great legacy.

The United States was a better place on September 10th, 2001. We should not forget what happened the next day. Nor should we forget the wrongs the United States has subsequently done. That September 10th is long gone. But there will always be another one. Whether we will live in a 9/10 or a 9/11 world is a choice we have, and it is a choice we continue to make.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

45 thoughts

  1. I will never understand the notion that we should have felt shame or embarrassment for having lived in a time of peace and prosperity, nor do I understand the notion that there is some sort of virtuous toughness in living in a time of crisis.

  2. Going back to a Sept.10 world is the height of living in lalaland. It's nice to pretend that Islamofascists don't want you dead, doesn't make it so.

  3. Islamofascists want me dead, and some Nigerians want to steal my money. The former is not a valid justification to invade Iraq, and the latter is not a valid justification to bomb Lagos (although at least in that case it would be the right country).

  4. When I was in public high school I went on a field trip with the drama class to Stratford, Ontario for a little Shakespeare. It was an annual thing. One of the student on the trip was a Spanis foreign exchange student who unsurprisingly lacked a Canadian visa. She was simply told to remain quiet when the border patrol did the cursory “Is everyone here an American citizen?” Good luck with that nowadays. The schools just don't go through the hassle of taking students into Canada anymore. This makes me sad.

  5. Our heads are still in the sand. We keep acting that if we bring the folks in the middle east democracy at the point of a bayonet, all of our trouble are going to go away. IMHO, as long as we have a presence in the Middle East, and support Israel, we are going to alienate the fundamentalist faction in the Middle East. What is the answer? I don't know, as long as there are 2 societies fighting on a religious basis, there is going to be very little basis for rational discourse. And we aren't go to leave the middle east any time soon, not as long as our economy is driven by petrochemicals.

  6. Blowback. Look it up.To think that Americans were totally innocent on 9/10 is right. To think that we were fully aware is deadly wrong. We overthrew the democratic govt of Iran, installed the Shah, Islamic revolution and Hostages the result. To contain our fuck up, we give money and weapons to brutal dictator and ally Sadaam Hussein. 8-year long bloody war ensues. Hussein slaughters his own people, and looking for new income, turns to Kuwait. Our ambassador tells him”We have no interest in your Arab-Arab conflicts” before the Kuwait invasion. We decimate the Iraqi population and destroy infrastructure. We continue to bomb them for ten years, and impose economic sanctions that reslut in the death of millions. A country with no Navy or Air Force is, after 9/11 declared a threat to the US and the world, invaded once again. Saudi Arabia, the most brutal, oppressive govt in the Middle East has our backing, sends kids to radical madrassas, and is 2nd on the list of buyers of US weapons. We created Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and globalized them in the Balkans. We send Israel 10 billion a year-more than all the money we send to Sub-Saharan Africa combined-despite that more Palestinian civilians die exponentially more than Israelis in every one of their conflicts, and Israel continues to deny Gaza-one of the most dense areas in the world-trade. We have an empire-800 military bases in foreign countries. Many govts must answer to us before they do anything. To think that the American people were innocent on 9/10 is correct. To think that we were unquestioning idiots who thought that daddy govt was here to protect us is also correct.

  7. Let us change the definition of moving on. Let us memorialize in perpetuity. However, when most prudent, let's move on from a violent response before those impulses even fully materialize.

  8. The “Islamofascists” wanted us dead on 9/10. The events of 9/11 changed their operational status, not their beliefs or attitudes or essential nature. *We* are the ones who changed on 9/11, and Will's point (I think) is that many of those changes weren't for the better. We became more paranoid, more willing to sacrifice our liberties, more willing to submit to false information and false dichotomies. Unfortunately, what didn't change was the very things about us that led to 9/11 in the first place – our greed, our selfishness, our way of treating anything that doesn't benefit us directly with either indifference or contempt. If anything, we became more of what those people hated, and that's where I part ways with Will.You see, I don't think we should (or can) be the people we were on 9/10. Nor should we be the people we turned into on 9/11. We should be the people that Jesus, or Buddha, or the Founding Fathers, or whatever moral authorities you believe in, would have wanted us to be on 9/10 – the people who have been hard to find for quite a long time, I'm afraid. Feeling deeply about 9/11 requires that we think deeply too, and it's those who refuse to do so who are sticking their heads in the sand. As we remember the dead, we should remember also what they would wish of and for us, and it's surely not what we have delivered.None of that means we should blame ourselves, or forego decisive action. I believed then and believe now that we were right to go into Afghanistan, and right to pursue known terrorists elsewhere, aggressively and forcefully. The need for such action does not justify, and is not aided by, torture and rendition and suspension of habeas corpus and domestic spying and all the other rubbish. More American lives have been lost in Iraq than were lost on 9/11. If all those fine soldiers and all that money and material and attention had been focused on Afghanistan, the Phillippines, Africa, on both military and humanitarian action, we'd be much closer to eliminating terrorism and still would have had resources left over to clean up our many messes back home.We are *fools* for having done otherwise. Those who bitch about a “pre-9/11 mindset” are themselves usually guilty of a pre-1776 mindset. They keep wrapping themselves in the flag, but if the flag had volition it would reject them. If we want to remember the victims of 9/11, let's do it by recalling what it means to be *real* Americans.

  9. The U.S. was not on a libertyloving trajectory pre-9/11, and I would argue that the murderous events of that day did not set this country on a different course. Yes, professional politicians used them rhetorically to justify and accelerate statist interventions in general. But in the absence of the war, they would have found plenty of reasons to balloon our debt and screw with the economy. It's what they were already doing. It's what they do. The United States was a better place on September 10th, 2001? Well, it was better in the Julian Simon sense. We had more people and people rock. But, then again, all of this time has gone by and the population has grown by far more than the number killed that day. Was the U.S. a better place on September 10th, 1990, pre-Persian Gulf War, pre-Clinton tax hikes and regulatory expansion? The U.S. has been socializing medicine for decades, but I don't long to live in the age before Medicare. Yikes! I know you know this, Will, but I'll say it anyway, for the sake of emphasis: This country is more than the sum of its government interventions. PHEW, right? By that standard of measure, every year this country gets worse and worse. Yet, my lived experience has been that things are getting better and better, decade after decade. How is that possible?I wouldn't trade living today for living yesterday (though it's tempting to go back to the time before I broke my leg last Fall!). I like my iPhone and the new friends I've made and the things I've learned. Do we get to choose to live in your 9/10 world purely in terms of the extent of State intervention, without losing the benefits of tech developments, your blog, the development of new and better theories in science, medicine, and even among libertyloving theorists? Isn't this whole line of thinking kind of bonkers?No doubt the war in Iraq has been disastrous in many ways. For all the life and wealth lost, and the cost in eroded liberties and the rule of law on top of that, nothing like the post-WWII Japan or Germany is emerging in Iraq. So, yeah, that sucks, total bummer, a genuine disaster, as you say.But with or without terror attacks on 9/11, libertylovers would be engaged in an uphill battle, a long-term struggle. And our best hope of winning it today is not to say, “Let's choose today to live tomorrow as if it were yesterday.” Let the conservatives make that sad case. Let's instead talk about the genuinely progressive case and thoroughly empirical case for liberating people and markets from inhumane and wasteful rules and obstacles and penalties. It's going to get more interventionist before it gets less interventionist, but that's not reason enough to want to dream of living in the past. Tomorrow will *and should* look nothing like the past.

  10. Neo-conservatives don't get to lecture on lalaland. Not anymore. You've proven yourselves to be the most unrealistic, deluded denizens of fantasy land in our political landscape. Thinking Iraqis would greet us with flowers is lalaland. Checking the Terror Threat Level is lalaland. Thinking Saddam was working with al Qaeda is lalaland. Remember “Arab Spring?” More like lalaland spring.Don't tell me I have to respect your bedwetting and imperialism, or I'm living in lalaland. You went years hanging on every word George Bush had to say about national security policy. You don't get to lecture other people about lalaland.

  11. Your mistake is thinking that the thugs who attacked us on September 11th want or even capable of “rational discourse.”

  12. Well done Will. I would add that the 9/11 mentality in society (to say nothing of the 9/12) is dangerous in the extreme not because it just allows government excess in nominal pursuit of security, but because it encourages and rewards it. The true sickness of the particular government that was in place on 9/11/01 comes into view only when we realize how finely attuned to that political fact, and how quick and expert at exploiting, they were (glorification of which is the essence of Beck's 9/12 movement).Had we a healthier government, 9/11 itself would have been deterred. But had we a stronger and healthier body politic as well a well-intentioned government not intent on exploiting our vulnerability, we could have much more quickly returned to a societal 9/10 state, whilst at the same time the government remained on a vigilant, though law-abiding, protective footing consistent with our values, as things had to a large extent been until the end of the previous president's administration.

  13. Scott, we're not justifying Iraq here, just discussing whether we should pretend 9/11 never happened and go back to our cozy 9/10 world.

  14. There seems a certain arrogance here, as if what the US decides is the only thing that matters.Also, if the response to 9/11 is “an enormous disaster”, what does the Civil War count as? And which part of the response to 9/11? The lack of any further attack on the American mainland, for example? The rights or wrongs of overthrowing Saddam Hussein can certainly be debated, as can the competence or otherwise of the subsequent occupation. (Personally, I think Paul Bremer was an idiot and Rumsfield a clever fool.) Overthrowing the Taliban seems a less ambiguous issue though, again, the competence or otherwise of the subsequent campaign in Afghanistan/NW Pakistan can also be debated.Some response such as Gitmo (in the sense of detention centres) was always likely, since neither ordinary criminal nor PoW accurately captures what a jihadi is. The revival of torture, in any form, was both wicked and stupid. There is a lot of complexity here.

  15. Thank you. We don't acknowledge the facts of how the US government has, in our names, royally screwed over that part of the world enough.To anyone who thinks pointing this out is blame-the-victim: No, we did not deserve it. In fact our collective ignorance about these type of things obliterates the rationale for the attacks given by the people that planned them. We didn't ask for empire, global dominance wasn't democratically agreed upon, that decision was made for us from the top. What al-qaeda did that day was a large scale version of what happens when a gang doing a retaliatory drive-by hits a bystander.

  16. If the U.S. government has been aggressing against other peoples in other countries then how are U.S. citizens necessarily blameless? Isn't it akin to someone who gives money to an investment firm and then doesn't take any notice as to where the money is going? What would people say about the investor when the investment firm has been investing in terrorism? Suppose the investors pleads ignorance “I just gave them the money” yet at the same time didn't bother to look either? Likewise was that which the U.S. was doing in the Middle East prior to Sept. 11 particularly secret or was it fairly easy to find out if anybody took the time to look? Americans didn't “ask for the empire” yet and the same time did nothing to prevent the empire from emerging either despite the fact the average American has far more capacity to change their government than most other nations? When Thomas Jefferson talked of “eternal vigilance” it's obvious most Americans didn't have a clue as to what he was talking about.At the end of the day, if anyone gives credence to 'revisionist' history where the Nazis and Japanese were 'provoked' into war then the Axis could claim that they are the 'good guys' and are engaging in self-defence then if the U.S. was provoking people in Middle East then Sept. 11 becomes a form of self-defence too.

  17. I thought Libertarians wanted us to go back to a 9/12 society, at least that's what Glenn Beck's 9/12 project was all about. Didn't you know that Beck was a libertarian? Well according to Jonah Golberg he is. Speaking of Beck on NRO, Golberg said “what makes his populism palatable to me (I'm not a big fan of populism) is that he's fundamentally a libertarian populist. He's not clamoring for the government to do more, he's clamoring for the government to do less. And that's the safest kind of populism there is.”

  18. Funny, I for many years made the mistake to think that the US was capable of and a proponent for rational thinking and discourse, then I hit the mid teens and a combination of a blossoming rational analytical abilities and english proficiency created a synergy that shed those particular scales from my eyes. It also made me aware of the loaded language agitprop commentators like you (on messageborads on UseNet back in those days but the breed has thrived and multiplied in later years on blog comments, a veritable plague) would employ to cloud their arguments in emotions not facts. Case in point your use of the word 'thugs'.For the record, I believe S.A. are correct. There is little room for “rational discourse” but it should be made quite clear that that is the case on both sides.

  19. Also, if the response to 9/11 is “an enormous disaster”, what does the Civil War count as? And which part of the response to 9/11? The lack of any further attack on the American mainland, for example?I can't help but giggle when reading this kind of argument because it so obviously fallacious. Because as you write it, the state security was more effective before 9/11, seeing that there had been no attacks on the American mainland for 46 years during that (the last one beeing unmanned Japanese bomb-carrying balloons killing 6 picknickers in Oregon and maiming wildlife from the Pacific coast to the Rockies primarily.)

  20. First of all, you are historically incorrect, given the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.Second of all, your argument is silly. Try this: American security against Japan was clearly good prior to Dec 7 1941 because there had been no Japanese attack on US territory before then … No one mounts that sort of argument because everyone understands that Japan had to develop the intent to attack the US.The jihadi intent to attack the US was clearly demonstrated in 1993, and US embassies in 1998 and <a href=”“>US forces in 2000. Leading up to 9/11 itself. By taking the campaign to Iraq and Afghanistan, the jihadis have been pushed back to mostly killing fellow Muslims, which has tended to undermine their support among Muslims.Not so in Europe, with the Madrid and London bombings. But Europe has a bigger problem among its (larger) Muslim population than the US does with its (much better integrated) Muslim population. So, actually, it does mean something that there have been no substantial attacks on the American mainland since.

  21. Technically, that's only what you are discussing, since Wil did not say we should pretend 9/11 never happened. How can I be so sure? By reading what he wrote:”The United States was a better place on September 10th, 2001. We should not forget what happened the next day. Nor should we forget the wrongs the United States has subsequently done. That September 10th is long gone. But there will always be another one.”

  22. Disingeneous, Karol, when you use a loaded word like “Islamofascist.” Fact is, as I wrote in an op-ed, more people die every couple of months from diabetes — enough more that many of the deaths are preventable — or from DWI crashes than from 9/11. And, yes, there's no hubbub.As for the term, let's use, say “Christianofascist” about the likes of people who shot Dr. George Tiller and see where the conversation heads.

  23. Osama Bin-Laden did not object to american foreign policy for the same reasons a liberal secular anti-imperialist like yourself might. We may or may not have been “innocent” before 9/11 (although many of the examples you cite are more complicated and morally gray than you make them out to be), but Al-Qaeda had a very different definition of innocent, one that we shouldn't worry about living up to.

  24. To think that we, as a Nation, did nothing to bring on an attack such as 9/11, is nothing but pure arrogance. You can't keep meddling in other countries affairs, constantly trying to manipulate things to your so-called advantage, and then expect no consequences for those actions. What is the term…for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Well….you bully people, you're gonna finally get bullied back. And how did we respond? We bomb a nation that did NOTHING to us on 9/11 and was in no position to do anything to us. THAT is what we should be looking at. We argue about Saddam and his treatment of people, but we used a national tragedy that he was not part of, to in turn blast that country to pieces. Wrong response, and anyone who thinks we should have gone in there doesn't have a damn clue about anything.

  25. Gil,”Isn't it akin to someone who gives money to an investment firm and then doesn't take any notice as to where the money is going?”If giving money to an organization voluntarily and surrendering it due to threats of force are “akin,” sure.

  26. These comments are amazing. The US has done more to help the world than any power in hundreds of years. Regarding Iran, somehow people forget that we were involved with and in Iran due to the Soviets and oil.Around this time, the Islamoterrorists awakened and realized that they could affect us. Carter showed them how weak we were; they took advantage of it. They have no trouble trying to affect our way of life. Somehow this concept seems to be lost on many of the commentators here.Every time we interact with other countries we are affecting things. Look at Obama's terrible response in Honduras. Why are we coddling Socialists?? Aren't we affecting the future of Central America by supporting the exiled crook and Socialist Zelaya????In every case, we have to make a moral choice. In normal times, we mostly made the choice that worked to advance freedom. In the case of Honduras, Obama's choice seems to be the opposite of what is right.Being a Super Power means that every most choice we make affects other countries in somewhat predictable and unpredictable ways.I come to this blog every once in awhile and I have to admit that it's sometimes difficult to see how the thinking here works to make things better. There seems to be a lot of rear view mirror thought along with an inadequate view forward. I could be wrong; I'll keep reading.

  27. A violent response against those who organized and planned the attack is the only appropriate action and impulse. Anything less is seen as weakness and encourages more attacks. 9/11 was preceded by earlier attacks and Osama explicitly stated that the lack of response to those attacks emboldened him to do more.Doesn't mean it justifies invading Iraq, but that's a different and complex issue. Saddam was shooting at US troops long before 9/11 and we were already spending significant dollars to deal with him. I don't think the invasion was a good idea (especially the staying part), but the status quo wasn't very attractive either and I have yet to hear anyone propose a solution (even in hind-sight) that didn't involve US troops in Saudia Arabia for years on end and waiting until Saddam's nutball sons were in charge.

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